The FCC moves to expand political disclosure rules to cable

August 7, 2014

(Photo by .reid.)

Continuing in the vein of subjects about which the Federal Communications Commission is now taking public comments, the FCC has just moved to open up the commenting process on the question of whether cable and satellite television providers should be required to post their "political files" -- disclosing airtime bought by political candidates -- to an FCC-hosted online database.

Beginning in 2012, large broadcasters were required to post their political files, rather than keeping them in the office and on paper. Smaller broadcasters were required to comply by the first of July of this year.

Those political files make it easier to analyze political spending and campaign rhetoric across the country.

Though the FCC left cable and satellite out of their initial order, the time is ripe to include them. The petition for rulemaking was filed by the Campaign Legal Center, Common Cause and the Sunlight Foundation, and they cite data showing that the $340 million spent on political advertising on local cable television is expected to at least double this election cycle.

There are two signs that the commission's Media Bureau is especially eager to aggressively expand political transparency where it can. First, it has included in its request for feedback the question of whether such a disclosure order should apply to radio, too, despite the fact that the petitioners opted not to ask for it.

Second, the time lapse between the groups filing their petition for rulemaking and the FCC opening up public comments on the topic was a grand total of one week.

Requests for rulemaking at the FCC can wait years to be acted upon. Andy Schwartzman of Georgetown University Law Center's Institute for Public Representation is helping to represent the petitioners. "This is about as fast as the FCC moves," he said. "This is lickety-split."

Nancy Scola is a reporter who covers the intersections of technology and public policy, politics, and governance.
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